When a phone is not a phone

June 5th, 2017

A brief taxonomy of mobile computing devices.

I have been writing a post about my Nexus 5 phone and came across a theory: the Nexus 5 is not, in fact, a phone.

I suggest that modern mobile computers that are between smartwatches and tablets in size can be roughly split into two categories:

  1. “Phone” – use mainly for text and voice, single-handed, will be dropped, will be used on the go
  2. “Mobile device” – two-handed, used in safe locations, seated or at least securely standing

Size impacts how you use a device. It is difficult to use a device bigger than early smartphones one-handed. The situation isn’t helped by slippery surfaces like glass or metal on both sides of many new phones. If you regularly attempt to pull a large smartphone out of a pocket while walking or cycling, you’ll drop it eventually.

And while phones were designed to be dropped with minimum damage – compact shape, non-structural outer body, rounded plastic corners that take in most of the crash energy, even battery covers that pop off – modern devices might as well be designed to take maximum damage when dropped, with rigid materials throughout and functional edge-to-edge glass on a large front face.

Fragile smartphones that don’t take being dropped well have been a problem for almost a decade now and there’s little to indicate that the situation is getting better. Workarounds include protective or grippy cases, but I would much rather just have a phone that doesn’t need a case in the first place. I understand their value for specialized needs or carrying methods – for couriers or sport – but I just want to send short text messages and check next bus time a couple of times a day.

Here is a small selection of phones and mobile devices released over the past two decades:

Read the rest of this entry »

Exit Review: Canon S100

January 30th, 2017

I like bunnie’s exit review idea: a retrospective review at the end of a device’s life can be very useful and insightful, and it’s worth thinking back. Here, my thoughts on three and a half years of using a Canon S100 camera.

Short background: I bought a refurbished Canon SD600 as my first own camera in 2008, got a lot of use out of it, and liked it a lot, but by 2013 it was developing severe spotting in sensor and/or lens. I had bought a Nikon D60 DSLR as my “big camera” in 2010, and wanted a newer pocketable camera to take around and bring into shows. I liked my SD600 and was happy to stick with Canon, and had desired an S-series camera since its reboot with the S90 in 2009.

The Canon S100 was announced in 2011; I bought a black one as an “open box” from Black’s in May 2013 for 291 CAD including taxes. The choice came down to the S100 or a white S110 that Henry’s was selling. Ultimately I thought the additional features in the S110 (slightly better ISO, wifi, touchscreen) were not worth the extra price. I had it until December 2016, when I lost or was helped to lose it.

The S100 was my main camera from June to December 2014 when the D60 had a mirror-sticking problem (magically self-resolved) and from August 2015 until September 2016 when the only lens I had for the D60 was getting unsharp due to too many bumps. After September 2016, it was my wider-than-50mm-equiv-lens camera when I wanted that. It was also my portable camera and video recorder at other times.

Read the rest of this entry »

2016

December 31st, 2016
  • I moved to Berlin in April and spent the year eating ice cream and not doing much else.
  • There was a river and canals and parks. I missed the mountains and the sea though.
  • I didn’t work, and that got boring after a while, and I didn’t end up doing all that much programming either.
  • I got to a very weak conversational level in German. I became keenly aware of privileges of knowing English – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to move to e.g. Canada while knowing as much English as I know German. It’s definitely reinforced how difficult immigrating, integrating, and learning a language is.
  • I travelled the Trójmiasto—Warszawa—Kraków north-south line in January, and visited Gdynia again in June to see family. I visited Ontario, including the biennial visit to Kitchener-Waterloo in September. On the return flight stopover I took a two-week trip around Iceland, including four days of Westfjords and seals and many geothermal hot pools and it was great seeing the glaciers again. I also went to Nürnberg (for the the Christmas market) and Hamburg (for CCC) for a few days in early and late December respectively. I felt like I should have travelled more around the region.
  • I failed many of the goals I had set out in 2015, including financial, but I can’t bring myself to be really bothered. It’s OK.
  • I read a lot of books, including in particular fiction by Brandon Sanderson and Charles Stross, a series of short simple books for German learners by André Klein, and, earlier in the year, non-fiction about industrial revolution (I have a 4500-word draft sitting since April waiting to be finished up). Many of the books were fairly short, but I still read more pages than last year overall.
  • I didn’t listen to much music at all, both recorded (last.fm) and live (setlist.fm). I went to fewest concerts since 2012, again meeting the trend of even-numbered years being slower. I scrobbled less than ever since signing up in 2006, though what I did scrobble was slightly more varied than in 2015 – the result of a few “shuffle all” days. There were a number of reasons – storing music on an external hard drive mostly not plugged in, doing a different kind of work not as suited to background music, lack of good loudspeakers — but I will be trying to change that trend and get back to some of the music I’ve enjoyed in the past.
  • I started keeping a journal, on paper, and late in the year started writing with a fountain pen. How very hipster.
  • Hardware changes: I bought a new lens for my DSLR — a 35 mm f/1.8 — ahead of the Iceland trip as the kit lens was showing its 8 years of being bumped. Unfortunately it was a year of losing things, as I left behind a USB charger in Waterloo (I felt a bit sad, I’ve had it for five years and it worked well) and I lost or was helped to lose the Canon S100 on the last day of the Nürnberg trip (breaking a good trend of 8 years without a camera loss). I then broke the Nexus 5 touchscreen four days later. The screen on my X220 is becoming increasingly wonky and I might need to do something about it next year.
  • The planned data organization and clean-up went meh. I digitized a bit, but there’s still a lot to do. I started using a password manager with stronger passwords, deleted some online accounts and started a Google cleanout – yay to that.
  • I felt not as interested in photography. I still took pictures but I didn’t really care about processing or sharing them. Changing hobbies is a weird feeling.
  • I feel kind of bad about this, but the year wasn’t bad for me. It was quite good.
  • Treasure hiding.

Rescuing data from an Android phone with broken touchscreen and disabled USB debugging

December 16th, 2016

Last week I dropped my Nexus 5 once again, this time for good. I had cracked and broken the top glass before, but the display and the touchscreen kept on working. This time, the touchscreen no longer registers touches, though luckily the display still works somewhat. On a device with no trackball, touchpad, or keyboard, a broken touchscreen is problematic.

Unfortunately, I had been lazy about keeping my phone properly backed up. There wasn’t that much unique stuff on it, but I always meant to backup apps and app data, and to eventually root and reflash someday — but never got around to it. Consequently I didn’t have USB debugging turned on, or a computer cleared for debugging.

Generally, the way to control and back up Android devices is from your desktop computer, using a USB connection and software called adb (Android Debug Bridge, see adb docs). However, USB debugging must be first turned on in Android settings, and since Android 4.2.2, the phone asks to confirm debugging access from each computer that attempts to connect. Normally the confirmation is done using the phone touchscreen. Oops.

Here are my notes on what I did to eventually gain USB debugging access. I did not require root or fastboot. I needed a computer to act as the adb host and a few accessories: a USB OTG cable, a USB mouse, and a Bluetooth keyboard.

Learning from my trouble, I recommend people running Android 4.4.3 or higher and interested in maintaining access to their device to enable USB debugging ahead of time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Degooglifying, step 1: Cleaning up

December 15th, 2016

I’ve been looking to reduce my dependence on Google for a while (see my posts archive on degooglifying), but so far that amounted to figuring out how dependent I was on Android. I’ve now finally started working on actually reducing my Google footprint a bit. Here’s some notes on my process.

My goal isn’t to never again visit a Google website or service, but I will be happy if they end up collecting less information about me, whether through Analytics (which I already block), Gmail, or Maps.

Steps so far were: take stock (I am unorganized, so by far most important), delete stuff I no longer use, and start archiving things in my actual archives rather than haphazardly in various Google services, particularly Gmail.

Read the rest of this entry »